Date
19 November 2017
If Occupy Central fails to get its political message through to China by traditional or electronic means, there's always the mooncake. Photo: nipic.com
If Occupy Central fails to get its political message through to China by traditional or electronic means, there's always the mooncake. Photo: nipic.com

Is there paper inside? How mooncakes can be a political tool

It’s that time of year again for mooncakes.

With the Mid-Autumn Festival upon us, you may have received some hampers or a box of the ubiquitous Chinese pastry.

While we are enjoying the juicy duck egg yolk, let’s spare a thought for the history of mooncakes.

We might find some interesting snippets including their hidden political meaning.

“Is there a piece of paper inside?” is a typical joke some Hong Kong parents would tell their children.

It comes from an age-old belief that some mooncakes contain a secret message.

The origins of this tale go back to the latter part of the Yuan Dynasty (1271-1368 A.D.) which was founded by the Mongolian warlord Genghis Khan.

When the revolutionary Zhu Yuanzhang planned a rebellion, he had a problem sending a message to his followers. The empire forbade any form of information dissemination among the subjects.

“Freedom of information” was an alien concept that would not arrive in China until 600 years later (or has it?).

But I digress.

Liu Bowen, Zhu’s military adviser and strategist, suggested they stuff the top-secret message into mooncakes and have them delivered to the rebels.

The message called for the formation of a rebel army on the 15th day of the eighth month of the Chinese calendar, which has been celebrated as Mid-Autumn Festival.

Zhu won the war and established the Ming Dynasty (1368–1644 A.D.) while Liu won fame as a brilliant military tactician. 

You couldn’t make this up unless you are Xu Dazhou, a prolific fiction writer during the early Qing Dynasty (1644-1911 A.D.)

Xu is said to have taken liberties with the historical facts in order to highlight the tyranny of the Qing empire through his relentless mockery of the Yuan government.  

Another version of the story, which was widely circulated during the early Qing Dynasty, mentions mooncakes stuffed with hidden messages to incite the Han people to rise up against a foreign regime.

Nowadays, no one in Hong Kong would use mooncakes to send out anti-government messages.

But who knows? One day, the Post Office might censor our letters and some unseen hand might block our online messages and take down search engines.

I’ll keep a small piece of paper just in case. 

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JP/RA

Chief reporter at EJ Insight

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